Easter – April 1, 2018

St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church – Revd. Canon Claude Schroeder

Alleluia! Christ is Risen. He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

So runs the ancient Easter greeting, with which Christians throughout the ages have greeted one another during the Great 50 days of Easter , which starts today. And with these words I greet you all this happy morning!

Let’s try it. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed. Alleluia!

As far as Christian greetings go, it beats “Happy Easter” don’t you think?

Something a little unfortunate happened in the course of Christian history when the Gospel made it’s way into England and Germany from Greece and Italy. The German and English Christians had to decide what they were going to call this celebration of the Resurrection. The original ancient Greek word was “Pascha,” referring to Passover, and the festival where the Jews celebrated their liberation from slavery in Egypt. In that story, you remember, God sent the angel of death to slay the first born of the Egyptians, but “passed over” the houses of the Israelites who had slaughtered a lamb and painted the doorposts of their houses with it’s blood…

At Pascha the Church declares that “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” Jesus is our Passover Lamb. He has passed over from death into life, and through faith in His Blood we are set free from the tyranny and oppression of sin and death. So let us keep the Feast!

But for some reason the Germans and the English decided to call it Easter after “Eostre” which was the name of the pagan goddess of the dawn, and something got lost in translation. “Happy Easter!” has a certain ambivalence about it. Are we celebrating the arrival of spring, or the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead? As someone who gets a little SAD during the long, cold, dark days of winter on the prairies, I am just as happy as the next guy to see the light of dawn come spring. This can only mean one thing – the snow will soon be gone, and we will be outside enjoying warm weather, the flowers and the greening of the earth, and getting into the garden. It can’t come too soon, and when it comes. Let‘s face it: everyone is going to be a whole lot happier.

Although some people may get confused about Easter, Christians actually get to celebrate both the arrival of spring and the resurrection. Although they are two different things, we understand that the One who brings the light of dawn, is the same One who brings the light of God’s love into our hearts. It is the Lord.

As we sang earlier, “Earth her joy confesses, clothing her for spring.
All fresh gifts returned with her returning King.” (Welcome Happy Morning)

Spring may be a little late this year, but Jesus is right on time. He is Risen on the Third Day, just as He had Promised. And so even on this wintery Easter Sunday morning, we declare, “Christ is Risen. He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!”

But there was a Bishop in the Church of England a number of years ago who created a bit of a stir in the Church, when he announced to the press, that the resurrection wasn’t “a conjuring trick with bones.”

Some people were outraged.

“The Bishop doesn’t believe in the Resurrection! ” they cried. “Get him out of here!”

When lighting struck the Cathedral and started a fire three days after his consecration it was popularly thought to be a sign of God’s disapproval of the Bishop’s theology.

Now if by the “Resurrection” we mean that God simply waved his magic wand and made the body of Jesus disappear from in the tomb (pop!), and then waved it again and made it re-appear over here (pop!), then we are really missing the point, and the Bishop was right. In the Resurrection God is not performing magic tricks with Jesus’ body.

At the other extreme there is the view we encounter a lot these days that Jesus didn’t actually take his flesh and bones and rise from the dead, but rather rose in the faith of the disciples. Have you heard that one? What we really mean by Resurrection is that “Jesus lives on in our hearts” which is the kind of sentimental nonsense that one hears all the time at funerals these days.

“Yes, we were sad to see Mom go, but she has passed into our hearts and memories where she will live forever.”

If that’s what Resurrection is about, we should have none of it. Besides, why these strange accounts in the Gospels of an empty tomb, Jesus’ appearing, not as a ghost or in a vision, but with, what shall we say, a transfigured or transformed Body.

CS. Lewis once discussed the question of how angels could pass through a wall. In the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection it appears that Jesus could do the same. Lewis‘s response was intriguing: he suggested that they could do so not because they were less substantial, but because they were more substantial. Just as a rock is more substantial than water or air, and passes through no problem, so it is with the angels, and the Resurrection. Jesus passes through the material world, just as a rock passes through water or air. It is completely arguable and un-provable, but is I think a helpful image if Jesus is indeed the “very Word of God through whom all things were made” as St. John declares at the beginning of his Gospel.

Be that as it may, don’t you sometimes wish you had actually been there? Then you wouldn’t be bothered by these perplexing questions and nagging doubts, that the Resurrection of Jesus isn’t just some April Fool’s Joke. Today is April Fool’s Day. In which case your unbelieving friends and family are right. This whole thing is a joke, and you are wasting your time. The sooner you get over this Resurrection thing, and this Church thing, the better.

But he stakes could not be higher. As St. Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.” ( 1 Corinthians 15.17-19) I would add, on behalf of Christians preachers, missionaries, and evangelists everywhere, there has got to be a better way for us to make a living.

It’s important for us to note in our story today that when Mary arrived at the empty tomb did she not all of a sudden start singing, ‘Welcome Happy Morning!” She was terribly upset, and went and told Peter and John and that someone, God knows who, had taken the body out of the tomb, and they had better get on it.

Peter and John got up from the breakfast table, and ran as fast they could to the tomb to have a look. They not only found it empty, but saw the grave cloth all nicely folded up, as if someone from room service had been in to make the bed. What did they believe when they saw? It couldn’t have been much of anything, given that afterwards they just went home, more excited about getting back home to see the game on television than Jesus rising from the dead.

All of which is to say, the empty tomb “proves” nothing.

Well, how about a vision of angels? Two super-substantial angels, of the kind that actually talk to you?

Mary, as we heard was not impressed.

OK. So how about actually seeing Jesus’ resurrected body and having Him talk to you?

Didn’t do it for Mary, and she had spent a lot of time in His company.

When it comes to the Resurrection, the old phrase “seeing is believing” just isn’t true.

Mary sees Jesus, hears Him speaking to her, and does not recognize Him!

Now she eventually did recognize Him, and believed. But what on earth were the disciples to make of her report that she had seen the Lord?

Do you think they believed her? Not a chance.

“So now everybody thinks I’m crazy!”

This idea that if only I had been there, my faith would be stronger, obviously isn’t true.

The difficulty with the Resurrection of Jesus is that we really have nothing to compare it to, other than perhaps the “Big Bang” — the creation of the universe itself.

So we might say that the Resurrection of Jesus is properly understood is an act of New Creation.

This I think where John is leading us because when you strip down this story to its bare essentials, what is it that John is describing for us in today’s Gospel lesson?

What we have is a conversation between a man and a woman in a garden.

Now, I seem to recall reading somewhere in the Bible about a man and a woman in garden…

Oh, yes , Adam and Eve!

But what sorry conversation that turned out to be! There they were – naked in the garden, but instead of making love, they had a fight, which was to be the first of many.

But what a beautiful conversation that took place between this man, Jesus, and this woman, Mary, in the garden outside the empty tomb. Mary supposed He was the gardener. In a manner of speaking she was right. Jesus is the New Adam cultivating the garden of God’s New Creation.

It’s only when Jesus called her by name, “Mary”, when she heard again the Voice of the One who loved her, that she recognized it was Him. 

So believing in the Resurrection of Jesus isn’t about having certain thoughts and ideas about something that was supposed to have happened a long time ago. The Resurrection ofJesus is something you discern or perceive to be true … and it changes your life.

In other words the Resurrection of Jesus is a confession of faith. We don’t say, “Christ was Risen”, but that “Christ is Risen.” The resurrection of Jesus is a present reality, and it is the Ultimate Reality. It is the really real!

And what is this reality?

It is the Lordship ofJesus Christ over sin, death, and the devil. It’s the reality which we proclaim at every funeral service that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 38,39).

It was this reality which Jesus was describing when He said to Mary, “Go to my brothers and say to them, l am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” This is the Good News of the Resurrection against which everything else that is reported to us through the media on a daily basis can only be regarded as “Fake News.”

Jesus is ascending to His Father, having triumphed on the Cross over sin, death, and the devil, and He is taking us with Him. Through the Resurrection, God becomes our Father, Jesus becomes our Brother, and in the Church, we become brothers and sisters to each other. Could there be any greater dignity than this? This is something worth talking about. This is something worth exploring, and deepening our experience of, don’t you think?

One of the things we are hearing a lot about these days is “Truth and Reconciliation.” Canadians are having a tough time with it. I wonder why. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is about Truth and Reconciliation. But we need to get the order of operations right. It begins with ourselves, being reconciled to God through the Cross of Jesus Christ. It then moves to the reconciliation between the Man and the Woman, and from that moves out into the world. If truth and reconciliation doesn’t happen here, ( in the heart) and here (in the church) , what makes you think it’s going to happen out there? Any attempt at truth and reconciliation that bypasses the Cross and the Church, it seems to me, is doomed to failure.

Where is truth and reconciliation to be found? I want to suggest to you that it is found in the dialogue that took place between this man and this woman in the garden outside the tomb on Easter Sunday morning. For the Resurrection of Jesus creates a whole world of new relationships of mutual love and forgiveness, that is rooted in His death on the Cross.

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast. Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and wickedness,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.